Showing posts from June, 2015

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason: A review

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indriðason My rating: 4 of 5 stars I'm glad I stuck with this series of Icelandic mysteries by Arnaldur Indriðason, even though I found the first two entries rather disappointing. This third in the series began to live up to my hopes for it with a dynamic plot and some interesting characters that made me want to know more about them. It also featured a look back at the Cold War of the late 1950s and the constant spying that seems to have been a part of daily life in Eastern European countries of that time. Once again we meet that morose fellow, the thoroughly uncharismatic Inspector Erlendur of the Reykjavik Police. He's as messed up as ever as he continues to be haunted by the presumed death of his younger brother when they were children. The brother disappeared in a blizzard and was never found. This touchstone event of Erlendur's life has given him an obsession with long-cold missing person cases. In The Draining Lake he has another one.

Unofficial milkweed field trial

Over the past year, there has been a good bit of publicity and discussion in gardening circles about the efficacy of planting tropical milkweed ( Asclepias curassavica ) in our butterfly gardens as an aid to Monarch and other milkweed butterflies. There has been research that has indicated that this non-native plant might actually be harming these butterflies and urging gardeners to plant native milkweed instead.  For the past several years, the only milkweed that I had found available in local nurseries was the tropical kind, and so I had planted it in my garden where it has thrived. It lives through the winter here, although it generally dies back to the roots, and I usually cut it back several times during the year. Cutting it back supposedly reduces the toxins which may cause problems for butterflies, and, if it isn't cut back, it gets quite spindly and gangly and not very attractive. But the butterflies seemed to like it. Maybe because there wasn't an alternative for th

Poetry Sunday: Forgetfulness

I love the poetry of Billy Collins, with its down-to-earth wisdom and humor. It speaks to me and always seems to meet me wherever I happen to be in life at the time that I read it. That's certainly true of this poem which addresses a problem that many of us, especially those of a certain age, have. Billy understands. Forgetfulness by Billy Collins The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones. Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag, and even now as you memorize the order of the planets, something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps, the address of an uncle, th

Anniversary: Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

("This week in birds" will return next Saturday.) I'm taking a day off from blogging to celebrate my - our - 40th wedding anniversary.  Even as I type those words they hardly seem possible. Surely June 27, 1975 was only yesterday. All those intervening years have slipped by much too fast and they have changed me in more ways than I can count. Marriage can do that to a person.  I think that's what Justice Kennedy was getting at yesterday in his summing up of the Supreme Court's majority opinion on the same-sex marriage case. He wrote: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were." Truer words were never written. On this 40th anniversary, I thank my husband for making me "something greater" than I once was. Now, if only he could find a way to slow down the passage of time f

The Martian by Andy Weir: A review

The Martian by Andy Weir My rating: 5 of 5 stars Astronaut Mark Watney is in deep doo-doo. He is alone on Mars, left behind in a storm by his fellow crew-mates, who thought he was dead. It all happened six days into the Ares 3 mission to Mars. The six team members had landed and set up their base on the planet and were beginning operations when an unexpectedly strong wind and dust storm hit the base and threatened to disable the craft that was their one means of escaping Mars. Their commander ordered an emergency evacuation, but, as they stumbled toward the craft, Watley was hit by an antenna that had been dislodged by the wind. It punctured his life-saving spacesuit, wounding him and knocking his unconscious body a good distance away from the rest of the crew. They immediately began searching for him, but it was hopeless. Visibility was near zero and the wind and flying debris were fierce and unrelenting. The commander ordered her crew on board the escape vehicle while she continu

The Supremes speak

So, this just happened. Justices Back Federal Health Care Subsidy - New York Times headline The Supreme Court has spoken. Does that mean that the opponents of the Affordable Care Act will finally accept reality and beat their swords into plowshares? Not likely. Just read the statements of the Republican candidates for the presidency in response to the decision. They've spent years enflaming their base with hatred for this law. To give up now would be to disappoint that base that the candidates need for a primary win. So, no doubt the fiery, intemperate rhetoric will continue.  But, for now, the health care of millions of Americans is safe. And that is a good thing.

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus

A pair of Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus birds feed among the vines next to my backyard goldfish pond. The Pepto-Bismol colored birds are favorite objects of backyard decoration kitsch among many gardeners, including myself. Every time I sit by my pond, contemplating my garden, and see the flamingos looking back at me with their beady black eyes, they make me smile. The Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus is a late addition to the planet's fauna. It emerged full-grown from the mind of sculptor Don Featherstone in 1957. He was a recent art-school graduate at the time and, in a tough job market, he took a job with Union Products, a maker of plastic lawn ornaments. It was for them that he created the pink plastic flamingo and as soon as they hit the stores, they started flying off the shelves. The rest, as they say, is history. It has since, as The New York Times wrote recently in their obituary for Mr. Featherstone , "been flaunted in front yards by the millions; feted in fi

Original sin, current suffering

Slavery was the original sin of my country. Or maybe it was hypocrisy. After all, a country that, with a straight face, claims to be founded upon the principle that all men are created equal while simultaneously keeping in enslavement a good percentage of the men who live in that country is a country that practices mendacity and dissimulation even in its founding documents. Two hundred and thirty-nine years have, unfortunately, not been sufficient to wipe away the stain of that original sin, the original lie, and we still suffer the consequences of it today. The acceptance of slavery at the founding of the country has cast a long, long shadow across attitudes toward those who were enslaved and their descendants. It continues to affect our society and our politics in pernicious ways. It has repercussions on how we deal with social inequities and why we have been more reluctant than any other modern Western country to implement policies that would serve to enhance the equality and th

The Children Act by Ian McEwan: A review

The Children Act by Ian McEwan My rating: 5 of 5 stars The Children Act is a part of the regulations governing the judicial process in family law in the courts of England. Its overarching principle is that judicial decisions should always be in the best interests of the child. This is the principle which guides the thinking and the acts of Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London, who presides over family court cases. She is fifty-nine years old and has devoted her life to the law. She has held her position for a long time and is well-respected by her colleagues as being fiercely intelligent and deeply immersed in the nuances of her chosen field of the law, as well as thoroughly dedicated to that well-known overarching principle. Though a champion on behalf of children's welfare, Fiona has no children of her own. In their busy professional lives, she and her long-time husband, Jack, never had time for them. Jack is an academic, a professor and writer. They have many nieces and

Poetry Sunday: Those Winter Sundays

Remembering my father, dead now these seventeen years, on this Father's Day. I grew up in a farm house that had only fireplaces and the kitchen stove for heat in the winter. And those winters could get very cold indeed. My father always rose early on those cold days and started fires in the fireplaces and the stove to warm the house, and by the time I got up, the house was toasty, proof against the outside chill. I never thought to thank him for that service or for any of the others that he performed routinely. I took it all for granted, as selfish children do. It was only much later in life that I began to understand some of the sacrifices he had made for me. Here's a poem by Robert Hayden that commemorates just such a father.    Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden ,  1913  -  1980 Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made bank

This week in birds - #162

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Bad hair day? Heron and bittern chicks are not the most lovely of creatures, but they are ugly-cute. In their early weeks, they appear gangly and awkward, at first covered by fuzzy down and then transitioning to feathers. This young American Bittern is part-way through his transition and still sporting the fuzzy down on his head. *~*~*~* This has been National Pollinator Week and I have been very negligent in not mentioning and celebrating it here on the blog. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some useful suggestions about how you can help pollinators. The Xerces Society, an organization specifically dedicated to the protection of invertebrates,  has even more information . Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help pollinators is to pledge never to use neonicotinoid pesticides in your garden - or indeed pesticides of any kind.   To partially make up for my negligence, here is a picture of one of

Way to go, Frankie!

Since his installation as pope, the man known as Francis has been something of a breath of fresh air in a staid and stodgy old institution. Not only that, he has also been an inspiration to non-Catholics and even to non-religious people with his welcoming and non-judgmental attitude.  Now, with the encyclical entitled "Laudato Si," translated as "Praise Be to You," which was released yesterday, Pope Francis has staunchly aligned himself and the Catholic Church with the overwhelming majority (97%) of climate scientists who firmly place the blame for our rapidly warming climate on human activity and human release of greenhouse gases. He further pointed out that the impoverished people of the world bear a disproportionate burden from the effects of such pollution, whether they live in a rich country or a poor country. Thus, his encyclical can be seen as just one more step in his attempt to refocus his church on the problem of poverty and working to better the lives

Voices by Arnaldur Indriðason: A review

Voices by Arnaldur Indriðason My rating: 2 of 5 stars I've read two earlier books in Indriðason's Inspector Erlendur of Reykjavik series and found them intriguing, if uneven. I was interested to continue with the series and see how it develops, but this third book in the series to be translated into English did not show much development at all. Indeed, the recurring characters all seem to have reached a point of stasis. Inspector Erlendur mopes and dwells upon the dark side of life. He is haunted by the death of his eight-year-old brother in a blizzard when he (Erlendur) was ten. He blames himself and cannot forgive himself and it makes him angry and unable to relate to other people. Including his two grown children. We again meet his daughter, Eva Lind, who survived the trauma she suffered in the last book when she lost her baby and almost died herself. She is miserable and trying to stay straight and clean of drugs, but it seems to be a losing battle. She is very angry wi

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Swamp hibiscus

Swamp hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus , is a native plant that occurs naturally throughout much of the South in swamps, marshes, and ditches. It often grows along southern rivers and streams, towering above other plants there. Established plants can grow up to 7 feet tall and occasionally even taller. It is a shrubby herbaceous perennial that dies back in winter and re-sprouts, putting up multiple stems, in the spring. The flowers from this shrub can be 6-8 inches across. They have five petals and each blossom only lasts a day, but the shrub continues to produce new flowers throughout the summer and fall. Because of the resemblance of the flower to the five-pointed star that is the symbol of Texas, in this state the plant generally goes by the name of Texas Star, but it has several others. Swamp hibiscus is the name by which it is most familiarly known throughout most of its range. It is also called scarlet rose mallow or scarlet hibiscus. These last two names refer, of course, to t

The Horse You Came In On by Martha Grimes: A review

The Horse You Came in On by Martha Grimes My rating: 1 of 5 stars "Prose seems to be falling off just a bit," said Jury..."Definitely fallen off," said Jury, yawning. Yes, even Superintendent Richard Jury seems to acknowledge it in this Martha Grimes cozy mystery. The prose has definitely fallen off. Fallen off a cliff, in fact. When I commit to reading a book, I stick with it to the very end. Even when I find myself skimming rapidly over sections of it because the writing is so bad. That certainly happened with this book. Frankly, it was one of those times when I seriously considered breaking my rule and quitting the book halfway or three-quarters of the way through, but I did persevere and managed to make it through to the bitter end. I deserve a medal for that. What was Grimes thinking? What was she hoping to accomplish with this convoluted story? It has so many plots and counterplots that it is impossible to keep them all straight. Indeed, they are all so u

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June 2015

The color of my June garden is orange. After two months of almost daily rains here in Southeast Texas, June dawned bright and dry and it has stayed that way for the first two weeks of the month. Only today and for the next several days do we have the promise of rain once again. And about time, too! Things had gotten quite dry here. They will tend to do that with the sun shining down daily and heating things up to the mid-90s Fahrenheit for a couple of weeks.    Joining our parade of orange are the daylilies, of course. Including the old "ditch lilies" that I brought home from my mother's garden long ago. The firecracker fern is heating up and putting out sparkles, getting ready for the Fourth of July. Justicia 'Orange Flame' is beginning to burn as well.  The patio table planter holds red-orange wax begonias. And in the wildflower garden, blanketflowers are blooming. The cosmos adds its orange blooms to the mix. By the fe